Welcome to Tokyo: Senso-Ji Temple

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As we continued on our first full day in Tokyo, we headed to the Senso-Ji Temple: one of the oldest and most famous Buddhist temples in Japan.

Senso-ji is a unique Japanese landmark because it not only is a Buddhist temple but also has a Shinto shrine on the premises. This is because of its origin story.

Once upon a time (in the early 600s), brother fisherman who found something in the river that they didn’t recognize; what they didn’t know is that the statue was the statue of a version of Buddha. Since they didn’t know what it was, they threw it back into the river. But it came back into their fishing net. They threw it out again and it retuned again. Since this had happened a few times in a row, they figured that something mystical was happening and decided to take the statue to the village elder. Once he saw it, the village chief knew that it was a statue of Buddha and advised the village to take good care of the statue. So struck by the experience, he himself became a Buddhist priest and remolded his house into a small temple building, which was the origin for the Senso-ji temple. In the 16th century, the shogun built up the compound by donating the main hall, pagoda, and main gate. Unfortunately, as with most things in Tokyo, it was destroyed during WW2 and was rebuilt in 1958. This version is the version that people can view today.

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The interior of the temple, directly above the shrine where the statue lives

The statue that the fishermen found in the river is still in Senso-Ji temple but it is so sacred that no one can look at it. It’s wrapped in sheets and in a locked box…not even the priest can look at it. During WW2, it was buried to it wouldn’t be harmed, but has since resumed its place inside the temple.

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At the front of the temple

The temple itself is built in the traditional Japanese style and is freshly painted about every year. We were lucky enough to come right after it had been painted so the colors were vibrant and lovely.

Remember how I said Senso-ji is unique because it has a Shinto shrine as well?

The Shinto shrine located next to the temple is for the fishermen + chief who discovered the statue and created the temple! In my last post about the Meiji Jingu Shrine, I mentioned how the Shinto religion worships natural phenomena but also sometimes deifies real people; this is the case for this Shinto shrine. Funnily enough, we saw another wedding happening at this shrine! The garb was a little less traditional, but it makes sense, since the other wedding was happening at the most famous Shinto shrine in Japan.

japan lion dogs

Before we head back to the temple, something interest to point out about Shinto shrines is that “lion dogs” guard each and every Shinto shrine. These statues symbolize the beginning and end of the universe (and human life) to both the Japanese and the Chinese. They get their name of “lion dog” because Japanese people had never seen a lion and made them look more like dogs!

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Outside of the main hall, there is a large incense pot where people will light incense to donate to the temple as well as to get a prayer answered. It is said that if you wave the smoke onto a wounded area on your body (if you have a hurt shoulder, wave the smoke over to your shoulder) then the area will be healed.

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One of the many stores in The Nakamise

We walked down from the temple and incense pot towards the main gate and passed the five story pagota and The Nakamise. Various Japanese souvenirs and Japanese Snacks are sold along The Nakamise. This street has been a historic shopping street for several centuries. The vednors sell everything from touristy T-shirts to chopsticks to treats and snacks. We got green tea ice cream and loved it! Something we learned about Japan is that the locals do not eat and walk. If you buy something from a street vendor, you are expected to stand next to the shop and eat it there. We think this is because since there are so many people in Japan that if you walk around with food, there is an EXTREMELY good chance that you’re going to bump into someone and get your food on them.

After we finished our ice cream, we got to the front gate but it was so crowded that it was really hard to see much of anything, let alone get a good photograph. Kazumi-san told us later that this is the most visited site in all of Japan, and that there rarely is a day where it isn’t as crowded as it was.

After our time at Senso-Ji, we made our way back to the hotel for an afternoon on our own. Since we were extremely jetlagged and had just spent the day traversing Tokyo’s most popular religious monuments, we decided to hang out in the area our hotel was located in, Odaiba.

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We went to Aqua City, which was walking distance from our hotel, did a bit of shopping (Matthew got a Tokyo exclusive from Stussy), ate some delicious Japanese curry from Coco Ichibanya, and got green tea Kit Kats (a Japanese ~exclusive~).

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Just outside of Aqua City, there is a Statue of Liberty replica that was donated to Japan by France! Random…but cool.

We took a quick walk along the beach and then headed back to our hotel where we ran into a small vendor fair along the boardwalk. We found a brewery located in Oregon (!) where the person selling the beer spoke perfect English and taught us how to say some more Japanese words. The beer was pretty good too!

After all of that walking around and seeing the sites, it was time to go to bed. I think Matthew and I fell asleep as soon as we lay down…jet lag is real.

The next day we had a free day! I’ll tell you more about that in my next post. Stay tuned!

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